The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - July 30, 2015

The new line-up of investors who lurk in the Dragon's Den
The new line-up of investors who lurk in the Dragon's Den
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For a while now, it has seemed to me that inventions aren’t as exciting as they once were.

I keep an eye on this field because, at the risk of coming across as arrogant, I consider myself one of the world’s leading non-famous inventors.

My two most noteworthy inventions are the Potato Pan and Water Waders, neither of which you are able to purchase in shops because, for reasons I can’t fathom, no one seems interested in stocking them.

My potato pan is a simple but ingenious utensil which, due to an in-built sliding lid, enables the user to boil and drain potatoes in the same pan, so there is no need to use a colander.

This means less pots to wash up, which saves water, which will end drought in Africa and lead to a knighthood for yours truly, or at the very least an OBE.

I have sent the idea to Dragon’s Den seven times now, offering a one per cent share in the business in return for a million pounds, but oddly am yet to hear back.

My other idea – and this is the one that I’m convinced will allow me to retire to a large villa on a secluded Caribbean island by the age of 45 – is the afore-mentioned Water Waders.

These are two giant inflatable shoes that slide over your feet, allowing you to walk on water, a bit like that Jesus chap.

I did a trial run of the Water Waders recently when I attempted to stroll from Lytham to Southport. I was halfway across with all going smoothly when the current picked up. It was then I realised a major design flaw, at which point I’d like to pay tribute to the hard-working members of the RNLI who plucked me from the River Ribble just shy of Ribchester four hours later (did you know, by the way, that the Ribble has the third quickest tide in England? You do now, it runs at four knots).

But although I admit they are not yet successes, at least my inventions are interesting.

Topping the list of Time Magazine’s best invention of 2014 was a reactor that can realise nuclear fusion. I have no idea what that is, but it sounds deathly dull compared to times gone by.

Take the 1920s for example, a decade when there was a whirlwind of exciting new inventions.

In the first two years of that decade alone, the first robot was built, insulin was invented, the first lie detector introduced, and a chap called Clarence Birdseye came up with the notion of frozen food.

Birdseye was an interesting chap. A taxidermist by trade (specialising in killing and stuffing coyotes – a field, I imagine, he didn’t have much competition in), he was inspired by observing the people of the Arctic preserving fresh fish and meat in barrels of sea water, which then froze in the low temperatures.

He wanted to do the same for his family in New York so, buying an electric fan and buckets of brine and ice for the princely sum of $7 (about four quid), Mr Birdseye invented a system of packing fresh food into waxed cardboard boxes and flash-freezing under high pressure.

Six years later he sold his patent for $22m (thus making a none-too-shabby profit of $21,999,993) and in 1930 quick-frozen veg, fish and meat were sold to the public for the first time.

Clearly not the type to put his feet up and relax, Birdseye next turned his attention to other interests and invented an infra-red heat lamp, a spotlight for store window displays and a harpoon for marking whales before – presumably worn out by all this inventing malarkey – dying of a heart attack aged 69. Think of that the next time you’re munching on a fish finger.

During the 1920s we also got the following: the electric shaver, penicillin, notebooks with spiral bindings, the first self-winding watch, the traffic signal, television, bubble gum (imagine a world without gum? How would Sir Alex Ferguson have coped?), the car radio, and a protective covering for cuts known as the Band-Aid.

All those seem more romantic and more useful than today’s inventions

I mean, if I was ill, I’d rather have penicillin and a Band-Aid to hand than – No.2 on the Time Magazine 2014 inventions list – a ring that buzzes when your mobile phone starts ringing.

It’s time to bring back exciting inventions. Anyone want a Potato Pan? I know where there’s several going cheap...